Dems on track for 60 votes with Nelson’s cave-in

Posted on December 20, 2009

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It looks like Harry Reid finally has all the votes he needs as Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson has said he will now support cloture on Reid’s 400-page manager’s amendment introduced on Saturday. Nelson postured as a concened advocate of pro-life considerations, but Reid’s bill ties federal funding of abortions to the Hyde amendment, which can quite easily be voted down upon its annual renewal. The language is much weaker than the House’s Stupak amendment, and it all adds up to Nelson more concerned with image than reality over federal funding for abortions.

In addition, it looks like Nelson’s home state of Nebraska got some payback in exchange for his vote. Nebraska is getting some extra federal Medicaid subsidies as part of the new bill, making the whole deal look like some political payoff reminiscent of the recent Louisiana Purchase that persuaded Mary Landrieu to open debate on the Senate bill. Anyone who thought that Nelson was taking a principled stand on abortion issues should reevaluate him as using the issue as leverage to score some pork for his home state.

So with Leiberman giving the Reid bill the thumbs-up after the public option and the Medicare buy-in were dropped, it now appears that Reid has all the votes he needs to get a final vote on the Senate bill by Christmas Eve. The Senate absolutely must rush through any final vote, weather and holidays be damned, because … well, I guess, just so they can hurry up and pass it before any more criticism can be levelled against it.

So, without the public option and expanding Medicare, what exactly does the Senate bill accomplish? It remains a complicated mess, but insurance companies will get federal subsidies to offset the cost of insuring the uninsured. Oh, and the unconstitutional individual mandate is still in there as well. The CBO scored the amendment favorably – actually, it only gave a favorable estimate since the legislative language doesn’t exist – but the reason it’s favorable is due to new taxes which will be paid for years before the benefits begin and the slashing of Medicare Advantage programs (which may not happen anyway and puts the whole thing back in the red).

So the Senate is on track to ram through the most massive piece of legislation in the last 50 years during a holiday week when the American public will be distracted with family and celebrations. Not that that matters to a majority that has shown no compunction for passing bills late at night and having little time allotted for digestion of the complex legislation. Not even the left is happy with this bill since the lack of a public option means it doesn’t go far enough, and MoveOn.org and Howard Dean are two prominent progressive voices calling for a death to the bill.

Reid and Congressional Democrats may think they’ve threaded the needle, but what they’ve really done is perpetuated a legislative nightmare that a substantial majority of the American people is against. It’s quite clear now that the real point of the bill has nothing to do with actual reform, but in producing a twisted piece of legislation that 60 Senators will vote for. The President and Democrats will have their “signature” piece of legislation, and they and the media will crow endlessly about the “unprecedented” and “historic” nature of its passage – not because it will produce a benefit, just that it got passed.

The fight isn’t over quite yet, though the fat lady is warming up. Regardless, this entire health care debate has been about one thing – partisan and ideological advantage, not about reaching a consensus that would produce positive results. I have grave doubts that what Congress will exude and the President will sign will have a significant positive impact on health care costs  (spend more to save more?) and coverage (millions still left uninsured, after universal coverage was the supposed goal?) Instead, businesses and individuals will see their costs go up and the system will become even more convoluted than it already is – all so one political party can claim that they “did something about health care.” Something isn’t always better than nothing, and a starting point isn’t always something positive if you take four steps backward to reach it.

Christmas morning may see a nice legislative gift under the Christmas tree for Democrats, but for the rest of us, it’ll end up seeming like a lump of coal.

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Posted in: News, Politics